Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hope and Despair

June 10, 2012 – Mombasa, Kenya

I am so glad it is the cool season here right now!  With temperatures still high and humidity that threatens to drown out a population, the breeze feels good and it is possible to stand outside for five whole minutes before the heat starts getting to me.  Having been here during the hot season, I know I have come at the perfect time and am grateful.
Kids Day at the Mikindani Clinic yesterday.  Speeches, games, lunch, snacks, poetry reciting, plays, singing, and gifts make up this fun day for the kids.  This is a time for HIV+ children to be together without the fear of stigma or rejection.  These kids, ranging from toddlers to 19 year olds, have known each other for long years and are comfortable with each other, teasing and laughing the day away.  I am astounded to see some of my kids…how they’ve grown!  Christopher is almost a man, as is Benson and Omondi. Abraham is now six years old – a little man who shakes my hand and smiles shyly.  Beverlyne, Lydia, Defence and the other girls are looking and doing great.  I just can’t believe that those who were babies or young when I started here are now six and seven, thirteen and eighteen.  Amazing to see them well.

I jump in a sack race against staff and guardians and forget that I am a mom, a director, an adult.  I laugh get ready for the spoon and potato races.  Then, there’s the relays.  Finally, I am moved from contestant to giver of prizes to winners.  Fun, fun, fun time.

I miss those who are no longer here, whether because they had to find another home due to a guardian’s death or because they had to move to an orphanage.  I am grateful that not one of my kiddos has been removed from the program due to death.  Even though I keep tabs on them throughout the year, I am never sure until I come and see them…seeing them makes me believe once again that what we do is good and right.

Seeing them, along with the string of new, young ones added to the programs also shakes me to reality of the sheer volume of work we must keep doing in order to keep this next generation doing well. 

I have had tough meetings this time around.  I’ve discussed reporting in Congo and new needs which we can’t handle at this time, but which will save lives and which will make children self-sufficient.  How can I refuse?  But, how can I agree?  In Kenya I’ve been hearing about all the programs left as gaping holes due to cuts in budgets due to many reasons – reduction of grant money from US government, the death of a beloved worker whose organization is moving on now that he has moved on to glory and higher costs in-country due to inflation, higher food costs, and a poor economy.  We are dreaming today, writing a grant, doing some thinking about a self-sustainable plan, visiting gardens meant to help children today and the clinics tomorrow, as well. 

I so wish that for once, we had an influx of funds that would remove the terrible stress of this calling.  We need more Kilimanjaro climbers, more 5k organizers (Betsy, I hear your 5k was PHENOMENAL!!!), more churches, businesses, schools, and individuals to see that HIV/AIDS will not go away on its own, but that we need to work together for these little ones who didn’t in any way ask for what they’ve been given.

I am often asked at home how I am doing, how I feel with this work I do.  Today, I’d answer that I am heart- broken, sad and frustrated and that I am searching, reaching, feeling blindly for faith and hope.  My throat is choking as I write and my eyes sting. Yesterday was hopeful, seeing happy children.  Today is scary and heavy, very heavy, meeting about needs and gaps and starvation for some.

Friday, September 30, 2011

October - AIDS Awareness Month

October is AIDS Awareness Month here is a brief update from UNAIDS - Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.

UNAIDS recently published “Countdown to Zero: A Global Plan Towards the Elimination of New HIV Infections Among Children by 2015 and Keeping Their Mothers Alive.” Leaders from 25 countries, 30 civil societies, private sector, networks of people living with HIV and international organizations met to discuss the AIDS pandemic and draft a plan to force a dramatic decrease in the transmission of AIDS from mother to child during childbirth.

The plan has the following Global Targets:

                Global Target #1: Reduce the number of new HIV infections among children by 90%

                Global Target #2: Reduce the number of AIDS-related maternal deaths by 50%.

And these four key principles for success:

1.       Women living with HIV are central and must remain a focus

2.       Countries must own responsibility for eliminating new HIV infections among children

3.       National plans must leverage synergies, linkages and integration for improved sustainability

4.       Responsibility is shared between families, communities and countries and accountability must be specific

There are many challenges that must be overcome for “Countdown to Zero” to reach its goal. Among them are the needs for excellent leadership, countries to remain in alignment with the plan, adequate finances, comprehensive and coordinated implementation of treatment for mother and child, human resources, and infrastructure to support the consistent transport of supplies.

(To access the full report, go to

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Fourteen Women Making a Major Impact

Several times a year, individuals climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, as a fundraiser for the American Foundation for Children with AIDS. On October 1st, fourteen women are flying to Tanzania to hike Kilimanjaro’s 19,340 feet. Each climber raised a minimum of $8,000 for AFCA and their efforts have the following impact.

·       Medical supplies affecting 30,000 people in Papoli, Uganda

·       School supplies for 800 children in Papoli, Uganda

·       Medical supplies affecting 170,000 people in Kilembe Mines, Uganda

·       2,475,000 doses of antibiotics for children to keep full blown AIDS at bay in 35 clinics throughout Uganda

·       Porridge, milk, and oil for 1600 children (twice daily) for 4 months in Mombasa and Voi, Kenya

·       Nevirapine, an anti-retroviral drug for 500 children and mothers in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe
This list is truly amazing and we are extremely grateful to these women!

For more information about Climb Up: Kilimanjaro and other fundraising initiatives, or to make a donation that will build on the list above, go to

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Cheaper And More Accessible Blood Test

A new credit card sized and portable blood testing kit has been making its rounds in Rwanda with remarkable results. The mChip is much cheaper and just as reliable and accurate as hospital lab tests for detecting diseases such as syphilis and HIV. It was developed by Samuel Sia, a professor at Columbia University, and funded by the National Institute of Health and the Wallace Coulter Foundation. The mChip has been put through clinical trials in Rwanda where it reported nearly 100% accuracy (they tested patients already known to be HIV positive and only had one false result). This blood test will no doubt make a huge impact for those living in remote areas. Instead of having to wait for days for a blood test report from a hospital, a person can now have near instantaneous results. Developers have estimated its cost at only a couple of dollars per unit. Sia, the lead developer, hopes especially to use this to diagnose pregnant women in remote, poor areas who otherwise would not have access to a hospital for testing. If caught early HIV positive mothers could be prevented from transmitting the virus to their children. The next step is finding a company to manufacture and distribute within the next couple of years. If you'd like to read more you can check out these articles:

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Our Own Backyard

It's been one year since the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) was unveiled by President Obama. The strategy addresses the needs of United States citizens with HIV/AIDS and presents steps to fighting the epidemic at the domestic level. HIV/AIDS is sometimes not thought of as a major problem for the United States. It's so often associated with poor third-world nations that it's not given enough attention here at home. The strategy addresses this problem and now after a year of the NHAS in action we can see how the epidemic has been confronted in the US. A review of the strategy showed a significant focus on HIV testing and anti-HIV/AIDS discrimination. The Department of Veterans Affairs increased the number of HIV tests administered to veterans. The Department of Labor held a roundtable discussion over employment discrimination for individuals with HIV and have distributed public education materials on the rights of employees with emphasis on those who are HIV positive. The Department of Health and Human Services is working to begin a program concerning viral hepatitis since up to thirty percent of HIV positive individuals are also infected with hepatitis. If you'd like to read more on the progress by NHAS you can see this report by an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC has also blogged about the strategy and it's progress.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Two Promising Studies

I had mentioned in a previous blog that there would be a conference on AIDS in Rome. It was a four day event held by the International AIDS Society. At the conference there was a presentation of the results of a trial regarding the spread of AIDS. The results showed that an HIV positive person taking antiretroviral drugs had a decreased chance of spreading the virus to others by nearly 97%. By forcing the virus to "retreat", ART keeps the virus out of the bloodstream and other bodily fluids through which it is normally transmitted. This news will hopefully be a big push for expanding and creating more ART programs across the world. UNAIDS predicts that around 9 million people who could benefit from ART are not receiving the drugs. The next conference won't be until 2013 in Malaysia. You can visit the conference's website here.

Another study revealed that male circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 60%. Rwanda is taking this study very seriously and has begun to perform non-surgical circumcisions by using a device called PrePex. Since December 2010 Rwanda has circumcised 5000 men and hope to have that number up to 2 million by 2012. This, it is believed, will bring the HIV prevalence rate from 3% to 1.5% in the country. For more on this see this article by the BBC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The East African Crisis

The UN on Wednesday declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia and predicts a spread of famine to all of southern Somalia within two months unless action is taken immediately. Around $300 million in aid is predicted to be needed in the next several months to keep the famine from spreading. After the announcement, the United States gave an additional $28 million in funding. Hopefully the declaration of a famine and the United States' donation will inspire other countries to help. I think this article really helps explain the level of this catastrophe more than any statistic ever could. If you'd like to find out more ways to help you can look at this article from CNN.